What do you look for first when shopping for jeans?
Cut? Color? Wash? Hem?
Are you more inclined to purchase one jean brand over another because the size is smaller?
That is certainly how I used to shop. My worth as a human being was tied into the size of my clothes and the number on the scale. The smaller the number, the more worth I carried as a human being.
I was smarter, faster, better if my size was smaller than the next person.
Or better yet WHEN did size become a predictor of worth in our lives?
Remember when you were a kid and your parent would bring home cool striped turtlenecks and track suits form the Gap? (I’m an 80s baby). You didn’t look at the size. You tossed on your cool Umbros and rode down to your friends house. But at some point we received that unspoken message: size = worth.
I remember noticing size at a young age, around fifth grade. I was taller than my peers and bigger in every way. From my shirt to my shoes, everything was a bigger size.
As my eating disorder progressed in high school, size became my ultimate predictor of worth. I vividly remember buying my first pair of high-end, designer jeans. Sure, I remember the brand, but what I remember most was the size on the tag.
Like the number on the scale, these jeans became my measuring stick of worth. When my body fit perfectly within their denim stitching, I was a good girl, a worthy human. When my sides aka “muffin top,” spilled over the sides, I was ‘gross’, ‘huge’…unloveable.
Senior year of college, I was wearing my worth-predicting jeans when my college boyfriend (now husband) popped over to say hello. I hated his surprise visits. It meant I didn’t have time to ‘prepare’ – i.e. change into something that hid my disgusting body or come up with an excuse for him not to come over.
On this particular day/month, I was in an eating disorder swing of binging and purging, so my body barely squeezed into my jeans. But I wore them as a cruel reminder. I thought if the tight jeans pierced my skin, I would be reminded and shamed enough to stop eating and get that jean-perfect body back.
As we stood in my house’s tiny kitchen, I tried desperately to get him to leave, making up excuses of studying and other *important* college to do lists. He leaned toward me and placed his hand on my waist. I jumped about ten feet in the air as if I saw a rat.
“Oh my GOD,” I thought, “He felt it. He felt my gross muffin top side oozing over my jeans. He knows it. He knows I am fat and gross.”
I immediately made up some lame excuse and ushered him out the door, retreating to my room where I sobbed quietly into a pillow.
I kept the jeans on for the rest of the day. Cruel and unusual punishment.
December 14, 2010
I slid my beloved and hated ‘skinny’ jeans onto my body. Today, it was important that I fit in these jeans. Not because their size makes me worthy as a person, but their size somewhat made me feel like I belonged where I was heading.
A few hours later, I admitted to the Carolina House for treatment. I thought if I looked skinny, maybe they would believe that I had an eating disorder – maybe I would believe I had an eating disorder.
In February 2011, my mom can to visit. We were out on a pass in my beloved Raleigh shopping mecca, Cameron Village. It was a beautiful day and I loved having my mom with me. We wandered into a store named ‘Beanie and Cecil’.
It was a high end boutique with precious clothing. Mom and I perused the racks and found designer jeans on the sale rack.
SCORE! I instantly thought, quickly followed by…OH SHIT.
There is a reason the Carolina House had a ‘No Shopping’ rule, unless approved by your therapist. My therapist, Christy, had NOT approved shopping on my pass and definitely would have said ‘hard pass’ on the jeans shopping with mom.
As the disordered thoughts clouded my mind, I noticed them and let them pass. I was determined to live a life without my eating disorder and that included shopping.
I looked first at what color and cut I wanted and then went find my size, or what I was guessing would be my size. I could see a panicked look on my mom’s face. She knew first hand how many times my shopping sprees ended in sheer terror and tears, not to mention I was on pass from my eating disorder treatment center.
Not wanting to rock my emotionally unstable boat, my mom remained silent as I walked into the dressing room. I stood alone behind the swanky curtain and removed my ‘safe clothes’ – aka clothes that were stretchy and comfortable. I slowly slid on the jeans, balancing on one leg at a time, praying to the denim gods above to be nice.
“Stay calm, McCall. They are just jeans. You need new jeans. You need to shop without your eating disorder. You can do this.”
I pulled the jeans to my hips, then buttoned and zipped them. I walked out of the dressing room feeling proud and confident. Yes, the jeans were a bigger size, but the accomplishment I felt overshadowed the number on the tag within.
I exited the dressing room with a huge smile. I went jean shopping WITHOUT my eating disorder. Sure it was there, but I did not allow it to overtake me. I loved these jeans because I FELT good in them, not because of what size they were.
Needless to say, my mom treated me to my ‘recovery jeans’. I am pretty sure my mom would have paid $5,000 for the miracle jeans.
But oh the irony!
Shortly after I discharged, I was putting on my beloved ‘recovery jeans’ when the worst possible thing happened – they RIPPED.
Not because they were too small, but because I stretched them a bit too much. I would hang dry them and stretch them out so they wouldn’t shrink. Apparently, in my fear of denim shrinkage, I StretchArmstronged them a wee bit too much.
I called Paige brand jeans and cried to the poor woman, “You don’t understand…these are my RECOVERY jeans.” I sobbed as I explained what these jeans meant to me and the kind human on the other phone said they would ship a new pair ASAP.
A few months ago, I was Marie Kondo-ing my closet and came across the Paige jeans. I haven’t worn them in years because I prefer my jeans’ rise to be above my c-section scar and not look like a Britney Spears’ video from 1998. While my recovery jeans spark joy in the form of memories, I decided it is time to say goodbye.
In addition to the outdated super low rise cut (can I get an AMEN that mom jeans are back in style), they don’t fit. And I. DO. NOT. CARE. I have lived A HELL of a lot of LIFE in my nine years of recovery:
Babies, Southern Smash, Moves, Ups and many Downs…so much LIFE.
And now it is time to say goodbye.
They don’t necessarily fit because my body is drastically different. They do not fit because the cut of jeans are different now AND so is my body. I no longer need to run to the store to squeeze into what size I think I should be, I simply buy the size that I am.
No one said recovery would be simple. No one said it would be a straight path. And no one said loving yourself in a world that picks you to pieces would be easy – but it is possible.
So try this on for size: (super funny pun intended)
Shop for clothes that bring you JOY! Skip the numbers and find what fits YOUR beautiful body.
If you like something your friends don’t, rock it. Style and clothing can be an extraordinary portrait of who we are. I did not realize my ‘style’ until recovery and nine years later I am still having fun trying new trends – and ditching the old.
I have had zero issue giving away my 78 other pairs of low rise jeans, but these jeans were MINE. They were the first pair bought for ME, not for their size.
Good bye recovery jeans. Thank you for loving me during one of the most difficult times of my life. Thank you for reminding me that a bigger size does not mean a bad body and unworthy human. Thank you to my momma for holding her breath and buying those jeans all those years ago. Feel free to treat me to a new pair of jeans.
Clothing is so much more than the fabric that covers us. It is self-expression at its finest. I am so thankful to have discovered my style through my years of recovery. And I am extra grateful to have celebrated NINE YEARS of recovery Saturday, December 14.
Nine years ago I walked through the Carolina House doors not believing in recovery, not believing in myself. My belief system was built according to the number on the scale the size of my jeans.
Nine years and a hell of a lot of work later, I not only believe, but know that recovery is possible. And that life is SO much better when we push ourselves to smash the beauty standards cultivated by our disordered society!
Challenge yourself to shop for YOUR body, not what size you think you *should* be. It is just a number after all! And haven’t we all learned to smash that silly thing by now?
In love and light,